Capes & Crooks DevSpeak: Cronies and Henchman
Welcome Hero to the first of many blogs detailing my thoughts and ideas on the development of our upcoming 5th Edition Superhero RPG Kickstarter project 'Capes and Crooks'. I will be sharing my inner monologue as I work through the challenges of bringing superheroes to my favorite ruleset, Dungeons & Dragons 5e.
While I'll the focus of these articles will be on Capes and Crooks, many of the concepts should still apply to any Dungeons and Dragons 5e game. Let's get into it!
As Game Masters we often want a great way to spice up combat. While this can take the form of hazardous terrain, traps, and of course, add more monsters. This can easily get overwhelming and require a lot of bookkeeping. Let's be honest. As Game Masters we have enough stuff to track as it is.
Part of being a superhero is wanting to feel, well...super. In comic books, graphic novels, and even movies. We see our heroes take on hordes of enemies. A great example is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In almost every battle scene they are just wading through groups of foot soldiers. A more superhero example would be the Flash taking out entire rooms of bank robbers before they even know what hit them. I wanted to be able to capture this superhero feeling in the 5th edition ruleset. Now, let's be honest. 5e's bounded accuracy system is perfect for this. It basically gives low-level monsters a fair shot at hitting high-level characters. Sure, they may not be more than a nuisance, but it works perfectly for what we want to do.
Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition had an awesome concept of minions. Basically monsters that basically had 1 hit point. Going down in a single blow. As a GM this made tracking the hit points of many monsters a non-issue and allowed the easy implementation of large groups of monsters. I took this overall concept and introduced it to Capes and Crooks. I call them Cronies and Henchman.
A few things to note. We want to avoid the XP from getting out of hand, so a single group of four monsters of say CR1 such as the bugbear awards 200 XP. So a group of four, that goes down in a single hit point are only worth the value of a single bugbear. This keeps the level gaining in check. A bugbear with a CR 1 going against a level 1 party is going to be a much bigger threat than say that same bugbear to a party of level 10 heroes. So, this way we can still use the bugbear. This does a few things. One, it gives us some dynamics and versatility to combat. It also easily lets the players feel the weight of their growth. If an encounter the bugbear was a boss when they were level one and a touch challenge. Is now barely an afterthought. This lets them 'FEEL' their growth beyond just an increase in numbers.
During the playtest of C&C, there were several encounters with bank robbers where the heroes were able to decimate a group of eight bank robbers with just a small party of three. With clever position and tactics, two heroes were able to funnel the enemy into a small group and take half of them down with a single blast. Meanwhile, another character dealt with the bank robber's leader. After the cronies experienced the power of our heroes area of effect attacks. They quickly realized their error and were able to break apart and take cover behind vehicles, in alleys, and any other objects they could find. This made for a much more engaging combat and narrative story. It's worth noting, that while cronies only have 1 hit point, they still do normal damage. Meaning, if the heroes don't deal with them quickly. They can quickly find themselves in serious danger.
Now on to henchman. Sometimes you want a little bit meatier enemies. Not full hit point enemies, but also not as weak as a crony. Enter the Henchman. These enemies can effectively take TWO blows before dropping. Once again, we are not tracking damage done, but just the number of times they receive damage. This makes it a bit more difficult for the players to spot the cronies that drop in a single blow, as they won't know for sure until another attack lands. Once again, a great way to not have to track too many numbers as a GM.
Now some enemies have resistances and immunities. Currently, I'm treating those kinda like temporary hit points. If a crony, that normally goes down in a single blow has resistance to say fire damage. It essentially lets them live another round, effectively doubling their life. Currently, I only allow this effect once for both henchman and cronies, as I'm not trying to add extra numbers for me to track. In a similar vein, a henchman with vulnerability to lightning will go down in a single hit instead of two. This way the heroes and enemies can capitalize on resistances.
The last thing to handle is the area of effect powers. Powers such as the flamethrower that does damage in a 20-foot-cone affect an entire area and not just a single target. When a crony or henchman makes a save against a power, regardless if it's a machine gun or a pyromancer with the flamethrower ability, they take zero damage. This protects them somewhat from being totally obliterated by powers and weapons that deal half damage on a successful save.
In the end, our cronies and henchman are pretty much designed to be shock troops and cannon fodder for other crooks and villains. As well as make our heroes 'FEEL' super.